March 27, 2015

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Jem and the Holograms #1 is Truly Outrageous



Jem and the Holograms #1
Written by Kelly Thompson
Illustrated by Sophie Campbell
Colored by M. Victoria Robado
Lettered by Robbie Robbins
IDW Publishing

Jem is a quintessentially 80's property; colorful glam-rock headlined by a hologram.  I wasn't a huge fan as a kid but even I know that Jem was the lead singer of a rock in' band, and of course that she is truly outrageous, truly, truly, truly outrageous.  Jem and the Holograms #1 serves as a nice introduction (or reintroduction) to the world of these characters, giving them an emotional depth I didn't expect. Though it serves mostly as a setup issue, it's got enough of a hook for an interested reader to come back; not to mention, gorgeous art.

I enjoyed this issue. It's not quite as action-packed as I was expecting, but I think it works as a setup issue. We're introduced to Jerrica, her sister Kimber, and their foster sisters Aja and Shana who have a band - The Holograms. They're talented, only it's not going so well. Jerrica's a great singer and songwriter but she just gets overtaken with fear whenever she's performing for an audience.  This first issue is essentially divided up into two parts - the first part is at the studio in the Holograms' unsuccessful attempt to record a demo video, and second part of the issue which takes place back at their home.

It's a really interesting storytelling choice that the team makes here; the first part of the issue is very grounded (actually kind of a sad story). It's clear Jerrica is struggling with her fear of performance and the comic doesn't shy away from that.   Similarly, the story is very upfront about the emotions and opinions of the other band members.  They love Jerrica and want to be supportive, but if this band isn't going to work, they might just want to move on to something else.  But then the issue takes a turn for the fantastical and exciting when Jerrica makes her way home though a rainy afternoon. She makes a remarkable discovery that won't be all that surprising if you ever watched the TV show. It's enough to say that Jerrica feels like she's found a way to manage her fears and keep the band together.  By starting with Jerrica (and the Holograms) at her and their lowest point, Thompson and Campbell are giving us real stakes in these characters. My sense is that this series will have a lot of fun, crazy, exciting musical and scifi moments, but by giving the story an emotional foundation, they establish some real stakes.

But I don't want you thinking this a huge downer of a first issue. It's not, and a big part of what brings this issue a sense of fun and excitement and playfulness is the art from Sophie Campbell with colors from M. Victoria Robado.  I wasn't overly familiar with Campbell's work before this comic, but I was highly impressed with this issue, particularly with regard to character design and facial expression. In a number of instances, the backgrounds are pretty spare or are just plain colors.  That's where Robado's great work comes in. In the initial scenes, what would be spare scenes in a studio instead become these dreamlike, psychedelic explosions of color that convey the glam-punk nature of the music, and contrast with how Jerrica is feeling. Throughout the issue, Robado's coloring is big and distinctive and brings that sense of glam where it's appropriate, and a worn, lived in sense to the other parts of the story. One particularly nice touch is when there's some tensions between Kimber and Aja, as the tensions keep rising, the background color keeps getting darker and more intense. It's a clever touch.


Campbell's greatest contribution among many in this issue is in designing some of the most instantly memorable, expressive characters I've seen in a comic in a while.  Each of the main characters looks completely different and like they have specific, real, recognizable body types (with something of a manga influence in big, oversized, emotive eyes). I appreciate the effort comic creators take to address representation; it's a great feeling to be able to personally identify with a character in a story.  Campbell's facial acting (as seen above) is highly expressive and effectively conveys the sense of big, exaggerated (but very real) emotions in the story.  Jerrica's sadness here is so palpable, you're relieved when Kimber comes out to check on her. But the above panel is also an excellent example of the care Campbell takes to convey body language in this issue. You might expect Kimber to come out and give Jerrica a hug (God knows she could use one), but she doesn't - Kimber is dealing with her own complicated feelings and part of that is frustration with her sister, and that's nicely conveyed in Kimber's body language that portrays her own guarded feelings and sense of self-preservation.

I like the message in this story; these are four young women who love each other and are looking out for one another, but they're also struggling with fulfilling their own disparate dreams and interests and they're managing that conflict (and it's also great to see more and more mainstream comics led by women both in the story and in the creative team).  This was a more emptionally intense comic than I was expecting, but I think will appeal to a lot of people. It's also clear that the fun in Jem and The Holograms is just getting started.